Epsom Downs

Sat 24th January 2015

Chilly Fingers

Scribe - Mike Boxall

Chilly Fingers

Kitcheners March, Epsom Racecourse, 24 January 2015



It wasn’t really cold enough. Our newly-appointed Mittens Orderly, Drummer Fairfax, issued fingerless gloves to all ranks which proved very welcome. But we really needed some snow to get the atmosphere right.


We’d assembled at Epsom Racecourse to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lord Kitchener’s inspection of the 47th (2nd London) Division there before their posting to the Western Front. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the event had been organised by Bourne Hall Museum in Ewell supported by Epsom Downs Racecourse and the Woodland Trust, who are establishing a WW1 memorial wood on Epsom Downs.


On the day of the parade in 1915 it had started to snow at 6 am and by the time of the inspection at 11 the 20,000 men of the Division were standing in snow 8 inches deep. To keep warm, they spent frequent periods marking time. This was a historical detail that our Drum Major didn’t have us replicating, either out of the kindness of his heart or because he didn’t know about it (and I know which one I’d bet on).


Having marched in file to the Forming Up Point, we were joined by the WW1 Re-enactors, Army Cadets and Army Reserve units who had marched from Bourne Hall via Epsom town centre. On the Parade Commander’s order we marched them on the last leg round to the front of the Queen’s Stand playing our 1914-18 medley It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Goodbye Dolly Grey, Hello, Hello, Who’s Your Lady Friend and Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty.


The end of ‘Blighty’ brought us to our place in front of the stand where HM Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Dame Sarah Gould DCVO JP, Local Mayors and other dignitaries, the Epsom Male Voice Choir and Scouts from 3rd Epsom Troop had assembled. After the British and Belgian flags had been hoisted and we’d played our 8 bars of Scipio for the General Salute, the short service of commemoration began.


The Rev. Frank Collins of The Army Chaplain’s Dept., resplendent in Temperate Combat Dress and SAS beret with Sabre Wings on his black padre’s stole, lead the service. It included two hymns from the Male Voice Choir and Last Post and Reveille movingly sounded by our Duty Bugler, Drummer Kirby.


The service also featured a performance of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. This was included because Vaughan Williams had been present at Kitchener’s Review in the snow as a 41-year-old volunteer private in the Royal Army Medical Corps.


Although the RAMC had been busy in 1915 dealing with hypothermia cases, one of whom subsequently died, we fared rather better. Retaining just enough feeling in our chilly fingers, we struck up with Galanthia as the Re-enactors, Army Cadets and Army Reserve units marched off.


After generously contributing to the ABF The Soldiers Charity and Combat Stress collection buckets carried by local Cadets, most of the spectators very sensibly disappeared into the stands at this point. But we’d been engaged to play after the parade, so play we did.


Following The King of the Fairies with Euterpe, we then tried a slower than usual The Adjutant to great effect. As we were now performing only to the crews busy dismantling the Choir stage, the Drum Major marched us off to the rousing strains of Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major and There’s Something About a Soldier.


It was good to gradually warm up joining the Re-enactors in the queue for tea and sandwiches in the Duchess Stand. Good also to have helped commemorate the men of 47th (2nd London) Division who’d suffered far more than our chilly fingers in the snow a century ago.  


Mike Boxall  


Click below to see the Corps leading the marchers to the commemoration service.


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